By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: Now these are what you can accurately call stress dreams.
The Review: Crossover events are like bad houseguests.* They often saunter in, uninvited, and suddenly you find yourself having to accommodate their own agenda. They almost never stay long enough to do any lasting work of their own. And just as unexpectedly and with just as little fanfare, they’ll whisk off, leaving you to spend some time trying to recover from their temporary stay. And this is why you should only tolerate such things rarely and only with good reason.
As good a job as Tomasi did with Joker during his Death of the Family contribution, I think we can safely say that it was a mostly disconnected interruption to the series as a whole, given that it left us with a cliffhanger last month that resolved itself in an entirely different title (see Batman #17). I guess like any good host, all we can really do is sigh wearily, clean up a little, and try to go back to life as usual. Perhaps that’s why Tomasi delivers an interlude issue post-crossover rather than swing right into a new arc.
Frankly, another sentimental one-shot feels a tad excessive on the heels of the rather sappy Batman and Robin Annual #1, but Tomasi does have a gift for pulling them off like no other. In this case, rather than trying to test the characters’ emotional boundaries outright, he goes for something a little subtler. Here, he re-emphasizes why these characters exist in relation to each other; he explores their unspoken, even subconscious understanding of what they mean to each other through their dreams, which Tomasi makes both logical and bizarre—as dreams should be.
The two Damians can be easily understood, as is their agreement that they are “a Wayne first and an Al Ghul second.” While it’s disturbing that Nightwing would be included among a group of folks (Talia, NoBody, Joker, Red Hood) that Damian can implacably watch sunk underwater, it’s clear seeing Alfred in the same circumstance hits him much harder. And we hardly need to discuss the symbolism in a bat feeding off Bruce’s blood, do we?
The closest thing to fallout from Death of the Family appears in Alfred’s dream—and I do love any opportunity a writer takes to explore the loyal butler beyond being, well, a loyal butler. We know that as active and crucial as he is to the Bat-family operations, Alfred is not really a violent character, which explains why he wakes, gasping, from a vision of him shooting Joker’s cackling head off. But the contented smile with which he falls asleep again afterwards shows that he takes a lot of comfort from knowing he can do what’s necessary to protect his loved ones.
Bruce’s dream, like the man himself, is the most difficult to parse and interpret. Surprisingly enough, it also seems like his is the least lucid of the three, where he literally/figuratively gets swept away by its non-logic. It’s a contrasting reflection of the utter control he displays in waking, perhaps revealing that he’s not quite in command of himself as he lets on. In the end, he finds himself helpless, only to be pulled out of his own sunken fate by a not so surprising figure. Only in this way does Tomasi pull off the truly saccharine final pages, though he pushes it just a little too far by his choice of last words.
Gleason does not get nearly the praise and attention he deserves for his work on this book. For every small, subtle detail in Tomasi’s script (and Tomasi has plenty of them), Gleason not only rises to the occasion but adds ideas of his own: Damian comparing the sole of his boots to that of his dad’s; Titus scarfing on Alfred’s oatmeal cookies; Damian going to bed with earbuds, Alfred with a saucer and cup of tea. And then there’s the storytelling; the two pages before the final page are a remarkable sample of Gleason’s artistic mind, a series of panels that’s chronologically out of order yet somehow cohesive and sensible. And Kalisz has definitely found the color of warmth and heart for the Bat-family: the golden reds and lavender of dawn after a night of battle.
Conclusion: Touching and full of soul without ever emasculating the characters, although lately we’ve gotten a bit too much of this kind of thing instead of actual plot.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I’ve worn out the relationship metaphor so much that I had no choice but to rely on another cheap analogy.
– That Joker whale is actually pretty creepy. I’d wake up sweating from that alone, probably.